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Langgard Symphonies Nos 2 and 3

Danish NSO/ Thomas Dausgaard

Inger Dam jensen (soprano) Symphony 2
Per Salo (piano) Symphony 3

Da Capo 6.220517

Among the difficulties of the composer’s life is that he is always either too avant-garde for anyone to understand him, or too passé for anyone to care. Langgard was the latter. His mainstream late romanticism was ignored in a Denmark enraptured by Nielsen and modernism. But why should a composer feel he must innovate? Langgard was content with the harmonic language of his time; he saw no reason to write differently.

The reason we look for newness in Art is no doubt because we are persuaded (ironically for Langgard’s reception, by the Romantics themselves), that only original things are special. So Langgard’s music, which was a deliberate continuation of the composers he most revered, seemed ridiculously unambitious even to his contemporaries.

This is a shame, when Langgard writes such pleasing music. The strongest influence on him is clearly his contemporary Niels Gade (himself a grossly underrated composer, for me), but Langgard admired Wagner, so Symphony No 2 can be regarded as ‘Mahler 4 meets the Siegfried Idyll’ and Symphony No 3 (in fact a piano concerto) as Schumann Piano Concerto meets the Hebrides Overture.

In one respect, I feel contemporary critics were correct – these works lack coherence, and the cut version of Symphony 3 (the original is lost) is a better listen than the original sprawling No 2. One can see also that the very clear thematic references to Schumann’s Piano Concerto would have disappointed contemporary listeners keen to discover a distinctive Danish music.

Fine performances by soloists and orchestra; another irony is that Langgard lived not only too late but also too early. The atmospheric funeral march of the Symphony 3 second movement is one example of Langgard’s pictorial skill. He might have forged a successful career as a film composer had he been only a little younger.

This CD is a curiosity but a good one. Immaculately presented, and in modern SACD sound, it deserves at least one careful listen.

Ying Chang